Mays Business School, November 13th, 2020
Dan Tinker ’96 has had many notable mentors and confidants who have helped to support him throughout his career. Now, as the President and CEO of SRS Distribution, Tinker wants to provide the same support structure for his employees. Tinker graduated in May of 1996 with a degree in Industrial Distribution from the Texas A&M University College of Engineering. He credits the Department of Industrial Distribution at Texas A&M University for having a major impact on his career and success. “It prepared me really well for leadership and for managing people and leading teams.” Tinker went on to describe how the ID program provided him with a strong technical background while at the same time providing holistic business education. From finance to strategy, to operations it gave him a well-rounded view of how engineering and business can be used together as a powerful tool.
Tinker is a visionary who fully embraces the entrepreneurial mindset of “Dream big. Be Bold.” He isn’t intimidated by hard work and thrives whenever he faces a problem that seems insurmountable. Throughout his career, he’s lived by the adage of “Small goals don’t stir people’s souls.” Tinker has learned first-hand that when you challenge yourself and your team to achieve impossible milestones that is when the magic happens. It hasn’t been an easy lesson to learn and along the way people have doubted him. “I don’t know if anyone but me early on believed that we were going to achieve what I told them we were going to go do,” commented Tinker. Time and time again, he’s proven that there’s no value in shying away from your passions and goals. It’s only when you are all-in and fully committed to your dreams that you can convince others to do the same.
For Tinker, the best way to encourage others to buy into your big, hairy, audacious goals is by fostering strong company culture. He wants to hire talented people and inspire passion in them by creating a corporate environment that makes them excited to go to work every day. “I want people to get a speeding ticket on the way to work, not on the way home from work. You have to create the right environment to make that happen,” he commented. “I believe talent trumps strategy every time, but the talent is wasted if they’re not engaged and fully passionate about the work they’re doing, the vision of the company, and the mission of the company. Have you ever seen a company with good customer service but bad morale? It doesn’t exist! You can’t do it.”
Tinker engages his highly talented employees by actively living the Aggie values of Respect and Selfless Service. “We want to bring talent here and build wonderful careers for people and change their lives for the better. You end up serving them. As CEO, I’m the lowest person in the company and my job is to serve everyone above me. The front-line employees who serve the customer are at the top.” For Tinker, CEO stands for Chief Excuse Elimination Officer. He believes that his most important role is to eliminate all obstacles and provide all of the resources that their people need to succeed. “That’s my job. I want 5,500 people to come to work that are smarter than me and harder working than me and as a result, they drive the business and I provide them all of the resources and the environment for them to thrive and have fun.” That commitment to culture is evident in the SRS Distribution mission statement; “make money, have fun, give back.” Tinker commented that at SRS Distribution, “We’ve chosen to be a people-first and a culture-led company and a big part of that is a dedication to others and service to others.”
How do you inspire an employee workforce of several thousand individuals? For Tinker, it’s simple.
“The way you do that, in our mindset is to let [our employees] be the entrepreneur.” He wants his team to take ownership of their role in the company and let them be the strategist locally. Tinker wants his team to know that their input and decision-making skills are valued by the company and that they are trusted by leadership to make calls independent of the corporate mandate. Rather than trying to force a cookie-cutter approach on their 390 locations, SRS Distribution instead provides centralized tools and resources, such as technology support and talent management, and encourages their employees to leverage an entrepreneurial mindset. “All of our employees think of themselves as owners and founders of the company. They have a different level of pride and engagement.” This commitment to employee empowerment and success is evident through the SRS Distribution employee shareholder program. All 5,500 employees have some sort of equity in the company. “Every time we’ve sold the company or had a liquidity event every employee stockholder got a payout. In fact, we’ve already made over 115 millionaires in the company, from the employees, and my goal is to make hundreds more in the next 5 years. We have a warehouse worker in Portland who makes $18/hour and is already a millionaire because of his small investment in the company in 2008,” said Tinker. “That’s the fun part. You can have great financial success and not keep it all at the top. You can share it broadly if you have the right structure and right equity program.”
For an Aggie entrepreneur who is so fiercely passionate about selfless service and supporting the goals and dreams of others, it would be remiss not to include recognition of the individuals who have played a major role in supporting Tinker’s career. The most notable champion for Tinker’s career is his wife, Audrey Tinker ’96. “My wife is the smart one in the family. She has her Ph.D., Masters, and Undergrad all from A&M and has taught at A&M. All I know is how to sell stuff for more than I paid for it. She’s the real brains of the family,” said Tinker. The two met freshman year in college and have been together ever since. She played a huge role in his career since Tinker’s first job out of college. At the ripe age of 22, Tinker was able to convince the leadership at Cameron Ashley Building Products to promote him to the branch manager. “It was a hard sell, but they did give me the worst branch in the company which was in Little Rock.” Audrey agreed to uproot her life in Texas to move to Arkansas so that Tinker could pursue his career. In just 1-year Dan turned that branch from “dead worst” to branch of the year out of 165 locations. During his time reinvigorating the Little Rock branch, Tinker experienced tremendous growth as a leader. He learned how to motivate your team to be passionate about their work. He discovered the impact that a talented, experienced employee can have on a team’s morale and a business’s bottom line. Tinker distinguished himself as a force in Little Rock. It wouldn’t have happened without Audrey by his side.
Another individual who was monumental in supporting Tinker is Mr. Ronald Ross, Chairman of the Board at SRS Distribution being one in particular. Tinker met Ross while he was a student at Texas A&M and Ross was serving on the advisory board for the Department of Industrial Distribution. For over 2 decades Ross has served as a mentor and font of wisdom for Tinker. “We have a great friendship. I consider him to be a second father to me. He was a mentor right out of college and taught me how to acquire businesses, how to value companies, and the operations of the business as well,” said Tinker. Ross was actually responsible for hiring Tinker at Cameron Ashley Building Products. He is also a co-founder of SRS Distribution alongside Tinker. “It started with buying a small bankrupt company in Florida that only had 6 locations and 30 million in sales. In the past twelve and a half years we’ve done 84 acquisitions, 133 greenfield new openings, and our sales are now approaching 4 billion.” Ross’s wisdom, leadership, and mentorship have been integral to the leader that Tinker is today.
Dan Tinker ’96 is the President and CEO of an almost $4 billion-dollar company. He’s a living example of how the education and values provided by Texas A&M can serve as a springboard for success. But the greatest lesson that can be learned from the story of the 2020 Summit Award Recipient is that when you treat people with respect and invite them to be a part of your dreams, great things can and will happen.